Board Member Musings

September 2020 

by Kara Dassel, PhD, FAGHE, FGSA

Hello, my name is Kara Dassel. I am an Associate Professor in the College of Nursing (Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program) at the University of Utah. I am currently the Secretary of Sigma Phi Omega. This is my first musings, so I thought I would talk about the unique academic challenges faced by colleges and universities this fall.

So, as it goes with 2020, nothing seems to go according to plan. Our spring sprint to minimize COVID-19 has turned into a marathon with a vaccination not likely being widely available until 2021. With the continued need to take social distancing precautions recommended by the CDC, the landscape of higher education has had to quickly adapt. Some of you may be enrolled in fully online programs, in which case, you haven’t had any change to your learning environment. For those of you who were enrolled full time in on-campus courses, well, this fall is not at all like what you anticipated. I especially feel for those of you who are incoming freshman who had their last few months of high school derailed into a very unusual college start.

I realize that as a student, there are many adaptations you’ve had to make due to COVID-19; moving to fully remote or hybrid learning, living at home rather than on campus, wearing masks in the classroom and sitting 6-feet apart from peers, not having the typical college-life social activities, etc. I fully recognize and appreciate the hardships each of you is facing. As we all work together to be flexible and patient during this pandemic, I encourage you also to consider the hardships faced by instructors and your university or college administrators. Many instructors are having to completely revise their courses, which is not simple. This requires creating and recording online lectures, revising assignments to be appropriate and engaging for an online environment, teaching in-person in large lecture halls with limited numbers of students, etc. In addition, many instructors are also having to juggle family such as homeschooling children and carrying out faculty responsibilities simultaneously. At the administrative level, colleges and universities are struggling to balance budgets with significant losses of revenue due to students not living on campus, students postponing enrollment until after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, financial loss through academic health care systems, etc.

We are an academic community (students, faculty, administrators) and we all need to collaborate together during these unprecedented times to create the most optimal learning environments. This means that we all need to be flexible, patient, and kind to one another. As my grandmother would always say, “This too shall pass”, and hopefully (sooner rather than later) our academic experiences will be back to normal. Until then, stay strong, stay focused, and most of all be kind.

July 2020

Hello SPO, my name is Candace Brown, and this is my first musing. I am a new Member-at-Large leadership member this year and have previously served on the board when I was a student (2009- 2011). I tend to write on a serious (somewhat sarcastic/humorous) tone…it’s really my personality. This musing is about the thoughts I have had on 2020. 

The year is 2020. So many thoughts come to mind and we are just getting to the halfway point. Like most people, I had a set agenda for academic projects I planned to accomplish, people I wanted to spend time with, places I wanted to visit, and personal goals I was going to achieve. That agenda was changed by force. 2020 said, “Hahahahaha- that’s what you thought was going to happen! Try this: *coronavirus*.” My life and the life of my family became more important. The lives of those who I wanted to visit became more important. Personal goals morphed and my academic projects are in a constant state of that Google colorful circle or iPhone jagged circle—you get the picture. 

The year is 2020. I am learning more about me. This pandemic time has provided an opportunity to slow down and remind myself who I am. I’ll be 45 this year and I think I’m pretty cool- I write that knowing at any moment my kids will pull me back to reality and tell me that I am really not. Hahaha. But, this year has provided an opportunity for me to spend more time with my husband (who I’m glad I like because these past 4 months could have really been torture) and our three kids (when they’re not on some type of device). I am taking the time provided to be more active in the social justice causes that are important to me because my Black life matters. It has provided time for me to look at what is happening in the world and to continue to help others that I will probably never meet. 

The year is 2020. This world is changing- and I hope for the better. But the road to get to “better” is going to be challenging. When it comes to the academic realm of our lives, we are all in the same land of “Unknown.” I do not know what is going to happen this fall. When I considered whether I would teach completely face to face (honestly, this one wasn’t even in the running for a spot), a hybrid model or completely online I had to consider what would be best for me, my family, and for my students. Students, in addition to their health, need to consider what is economically sound for them. I chose to do a hybrid model because, for me, this was feasible. I like seeing students- even if this year it will be with half our faces covered. The energy of being in a classroom is lifegiving for me. This morning I read that Harvard University and MIT filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration for their decision (on 7/7/2020) to bar international students from staying in the United States if they do not have an “in person” class. This is a fight for education. Something everyone should have an equal opportunity to have. And as a Black woman, I’ve seen this fight through my own eyes and those of my parents and grandparents. So, I already know what my stance is. 

The year is 2020. Being healthy, mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually is different right now. I have one living grandparent. My children have four and I think about all of their welfare. Older adults need to have mental checks just as much as midlife, college age, adolescents, and toddlers do. Call an older adult today and say hello. Physically, we are seeing people either put on the “Rona pounds” or trying new workout plans to compensate for loss of gyms. Socially we are on every internet platform available, playing games, catching up, and learning with one another. Spiritually, we are learning that our personal relationships with our higher power rests within us and not a building. 

The year is 2020. It is a year we will not forget. Do what you can to be a better you. Do what you can to the best of your ability and at your capacity. Be mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually healthy the best way you know how. We will get through this. How you get through it, is now up to you. 


April 2020

Each year during tax season it seems timely to thoughtfully consider fiscal responsibility. Now, as our world becomes smaller – physically distancing ourselves – and our economy responds I pose again: What does that mean to be a member of a professional organization? For an institutional member? For an individual member? As wallets – both personally, and in budgets at our member intuitions around the world – become even more stretched thin to non-existent, I find myself as Treasurer of Sigma Phi Omega (SPO) wondering routinely how we can be increasingly fiscally responsible as a member organization.

Our organization continues to come with many tangible benefits for members, but those benefits also require continued and active buy-in from individuals: engagement and application for awards and recognition; active networking with professional peers and colleagues. Our “products” cannot be forced upon our members, and are similarly harder still to “sell” to those unable, unwilling, or unlikely to take advantage of them. Particularly for undergraduate student members, it is often their first interaction with the concept of an honor or professional organization: what does this mean? Why do I want this? What do I get for my $25 other than a certificate and bullet-point on a resume?

Now, as our undergraduates are largely thrust into a remote and sequestered type of higher education they did not want or sign-up for, “What does it even matter?” is a pertinent question to grapple with. Our organization is thankfully built upon a remote model – being engaged and serving the larger group is easy, maximizing individual monetary investment (and optimizing a resume byline if nothing else!).

In turn, as a Board member, I continue to mull the ways in which we as the Board can supplement and support our membership as needs, technologies, financial models, wants, and times change drastically around us. Unfortunately, our growth and creativity are always limited to those of us giving voice – suggestions, criticisms, ideas and recommendations – as leadership to SPO, both formally and informally. What do our members want? What do our members need? As groups go, ours is one that is particularly open minded and welcoming to initiatives and ideas. As we move into a new era of higher education and society and organization engagement, we need to hear from our members about where we should go and what we should do! We have the means, and now is the time to optimize them!

Colleen Bennett, MA, MS

Treasurer, Sigma Phi Omega

March 2020

Hello SPO Family! I hope this March musing finds you healthy, safe, and adjusting to the massive changes we are each being asked to make. What a month!

I know for many of us commencements are postponed and the future is filled with uncertainty, within and outside of our academic life. My heart is heavy with the knowledge that those of us who are working and studying from home are the privileged ones. I know many of us are also facing job loss, financial uncertainty, and fear of the future.

In an effort to provide some small guidance on wellness during this time, I would like to share with you five points of psychological first aid, as shared by Dr. Amy Locke, the director of the University of Utah Resiliency Center. I choose to pass them on as I think they are widely applicable and may be of some help.

  1. Are you meeting your basic needs?Eat as healthy as you can, drink water, get enough sleep, move regularly, keep a daily routine (as well as you can).
  2. Are you taking breaks?Even taking a 10-minute walk, watching a funny video, or eating with loved ones can help you decompress.
  3. Are you able to recognize the good?Practice 3 good things, moment of awe, and mindfulness.
  4. Are you staying connected?Small, positive actions to keep and maintain connections help. Check in with friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
  5. Do you know it’s okay to ask for help?Talking with a trained expert can be a great way to reset, learn a new coping strategy, and get support. And we’re here (see contacts above)

It is my deepest hope that each of you are safe, secure, and healthy. Please take care of yourselves and thank you for all you are doing to take care of one another. By all means please reach out if there is anything SPO could do to be of service at this time.

Katarina Friberg Felsted,  PhD

President-Elect, Sigma Phi Omega

January 2020

My path to starting my career after college sounded like many other new college graduates: “Great, I have this education, now what do I do with it?”  I was finding more and more that people did not necessarily care about the credentials if there was no experience behind the title. During my undergraduate college experience, I did not get involved on campus in organizations or groups and I did not live on campus so my social support and reach was limited.  I decided the best option was to challenge myself and start networking with potential hiring companies. I found a job opportunity in the classified section of the newspaper and pushed myself to go meet the “boss.” Lucky for me, he wanted someone with no experience! This is where my career started. Admissions Coordinator at a nursing home.  With limited connection to my psychology and criminal justice majors, I remained open minded about the opportunity and sure enough, I fell in love with aging.

I worked for various organizations over the next few years and experienced tremendous growth in my career.  I knew that I wanted to do more. Seeking fulfillment, I decided to go back to school to get my Masters of Business Administration in Healthcare Management.  Since I was a single mom with limited time, online schooling was my best option. The courses flew by. I studied hard, completed my work, signed in when I needed to, and completed my degree.  Again, “great, I have this education, now what do I do with it?” I did not get the anticipated sense of fulfillment that I had hoped for. What was I missing?

I began leading a group called FOCUS (Fellowship of Communities Uniting Seniors), which is geared toward healthcare professionals that work with seniors.  I created the opportunity for professionals to get together monthly so that we could talk about the environment of aging in our community, gain knowledge from an educational presentation, and network with each other about the services that our organizations provided.  THIS is where everything came together for me. The UNC Charlotte Gerontology Program Director attended one of the FOCUS meetings and shared information about the program. (I will openly admit that I worked in the field of aging for 6 years before I even knew what Gerontology was!)  He shared information about the Gerontology Certificate and Masters Degree programs that were available at UNC Charlotte. Count me in!

I returned to my Alma Mater once again, this time with a fresh outlook and a career already underway.  This time around, I chose to get connected. “Connection” became the missing piece for the fulfillment I was seeking.  I joined and became President of the Gerontology Club & the Gamma Psi Chapter of Sigma Phi Omega (SPO). I took advice from my professors and submitted my work for consideration to present at the Southern Gerontological Society (SGS) Conference.  I met many great minds and developed lasting relationships with them. And it does not stop there. I graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2019 and have maintained my memberships in SGS and SPO. I now serve as the Secretary for SPO and am still submitting work for presentation at the SGS Conference.  The opportunities these connections have brought me are far more valuable than the degree ever was. I have a social support network, I have reach, and with that I have the ability to effect change.

I will leave this muse with a final thought on my journey toward fulfillment:  The destination is extremely important,  but the journey to that destination provides the purpose.

Brittany Kearney, MBA, MA, CDP
Secretary, Sigma Phi Omega

January 2020

Recently I have been aware of the many motivations we might have for joining and participating in organizations.  I am on the tenure and promotion committee at my college, and certainly we are looking to see if faculty are participating in professional organizations.  In addition I have a daughter who is a high school senior and applying to colleges.  In filling out forms and soliciting recommendations, she is aware of wanting to “look good” to prospective colleges.

One reason for joining an organization like Sigma Phi Omega can be to fulfill expectations we think others have for us.  Belonging to an honor society is another line on your resume;  being an officer is an additional line on the resume, something to refer to when someone asks you about leadership.

But joining an organization just to put it on your resume cheats yourself and the organization.  This external motivation might bring you in the door, but what are you going to do once you are inside?

For me, professional organizations have been key to creating a network of people who share my interests; people in my network also expose me to new facets of gerontology.  My network shows me that I am part of a larger group of people who are passionate about the field of aging, and that my individual efforts have meaning in a larger context.

At many of our institutions, the number of gerontology students is small compared to other majors.  That makes it especially important that students (and faculty members and professionals!) come together in organizations like SPO that connect us to each other.  Let’s each make a commitment to growing and cultivating our network, both for ourselves and for those who will follow us.

Mary Ann Erickson, PhD

Member-At-Large, Sigma Phi Omega


December 2019 

As we close the fall semester and hop right into the holiday season, I hope that everyone takes the time they need for self-care and relaxation. During the semester, it can become quite a challenge for self-care. It is essential for us, especially in the field of gerontology, whether academic or professional, to maintain self-care. Self-care is not only crucial for us, but for everyone around us, family, friends, colleagues, and especially older adults. I am a strong advocate for self-care because if we cannot take care of ourselves, how are we going to take care of others. So, I encourage you to start the season off right with a little self-care!

I am also an advocate for student and emerging professional development. The Southern Gerontological Society has its 41st Conference in Norfolk, Va. The student committee and I are planning a student and emerging professional a mini-conference on Tuesday, April 14th, 8-5. The mini-conference is intended for students and emerging professionals looking for academic and professional careers. As the Student Representative for Sigma Phi Omega and the Southern Gerontological Society, I encourage students and emerging professionals to attend the mini-conference and make everlasting friendships, networks, and colleagues!

Speaking of attending SGS, getting involved was one of the best decisions I ever made as a graduate student. There are many benefits to getting involved with SPO and SGS. First, networking opportunities are a great way to get to know the field of aging, both academically and professionally. Second, you get to learn about opportunities such as job postings, research projects, and grants within the field. Third, you get to learn about current research and best practices in the field of aging first hand. Lastly, the environment around both SPO and SGS is warm, hospitable, and homely. I inspire you to get involved!

See you in Norfolk!

Jeffrey Lentz, MS, CPG, PhD Candidate

Student Representative, Sigma Phi Omega

April 2019

Spring has sprung! Admittedly, where I live, snow is covering the new buds on the trees. Still, the days are getting lighter and longer, and in academia we are nearing graduation.

Convocations have always been emotional for me, both as a student and a faculty member. The hall fills, the audience is seated, the procession begins, and the music swells. I get teary-eyed watching the students file in in their graduation garb: gowns, caps, cords, pins, and medals, all hard won. I know the sacrifices the students have made to arrive here, the years-long grind, the running-on-empty-but-still-running feeling, the final push to completion. I also understand many of the sacrifices their loved ones have made – financial, emotional, the increased workload that falls to them, as well as additional roles and responsibilities – and how that combination adds up in people’s lives. I applaud this grit and fortitude.

Tonight we held our SPO chapter’s Induction and Spring Celebration, and it felt like a mini-convocation. These students have given dearly to achieve this honor. As we inducted each student I was particularly moved by the words and charges in our ceremony and by the students’ enthusiastic acceptance. We honor our new inductees, who stand as champions, having achieved high academic marks. We also honor our graduates from each of our gerontology programs, and I was touched as I met each student’s eyes and then looked across at their family, friends, and supporters – including our faculty and community partners – who are here to celebrate. What a night!

At this time of beginnings and endings, I am honored to be serving in Sigma Phi Omega. I offer deep and heartfelt gratitude to our faculty, community, and those who support our students. To our phenomenal students I offer hearty congratulations and well wishes on your new beginnings, even those currently disguised as endings.

Katarina Friberg Felsted, PhD
President Elect, Sigma Phi Omega

March 2019

During tax season it seems particularly appropriate to muse about fiscal responsibility. What does that mean in this day and age for a professional organization? For an institutional member? For an individual member? As wallets – both personally, and in budgets at our member intuitions around the globe – become increasingly stretched thin, I find myself as Treasurer of Sigma Phi Omega (SPO) wondering routinely how we can be increasingly fiscally responsible as a member organization.

Our organization comes with tangible benefits for members, but those benefits also require active buy-in from individuals: engagement and application for awards and recognition; active networking with professional peers and colleagues. These “products” are hard to force upon our members, and can likewise be harder still to “sell” to those unable, unwilling, or unlikely to take advantage of them. Particularly for undergraduate student members, it is often their first interaction with the concept of an honor or professional organization: what does this mean? Why do I want this? What do I get for my $25 other than a fancy certificate?

In turn, as a Board member, I grapple with ways in which we as the Board can supplement and support our membership as needs, technologies, financial models, wants, and, in general, times change. Unfortunately, our growth and creativity are limited to those of us giving voice – suggestions, criticisms, ideas and recommendations – as leadership to SPO, both formally and informally.

As we approach the Southern Gerontological Society (SGS) meeting I strongly encourage you all to reconsider lending a voice to our organization and reevaluating how you can (Easily! Harmlessly!) maximize your monetary investment as an active member in SPO!

Colleen Bennett, M.A. & PhD Candidate

Treasurer, Sigma Phi Omega

February 2019

I was sitting at Starbucks to write my board member musing and I overheard three people talking about politics. It became a heated discussion where one person ended up yelling at the other two and they all left in a huff. In such contentious times in the United States and all over the world, I try to find areas where there is a common goal. As a member of SPO, I have a place where everyone, regardless of political views, can come together to support aging.

Through my chapter, I have met people who are working towards creating age-friendly environments and people who are trying to increase intergenerational activities. I have participated in the Alzheimer’s walk and was joined by chapter members and community members. All of us sharing how we’ve been affected by Alzheimer’s disease and/or other dementias. As a student representative on the SPO executive board, I’ve been a part of the “behind the scenes” happenings and plannings. More importantly, I’ve been able to take part in helping SPO grow and reach new members.

Being a member of SPO has allowed me to meet new people, have new experiences and find a place where people have a common goal to support aging.

Amy M. Schuster, ABD, MSW

Student Representative, Sigma Phi Omega

January 2019

Happy New Year!  Or as the Native Hawaiians say, Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

For both Western and Native Hawaiian cultures, New Year is a time of symbolic replenishment.  However, in Hawai`i, it was much more.   The Hawaiian season of Makahiki was celebrated for the duration of four lunar months, from around November to March.  In addition to being a time of spiritual and cultural renewal, Makahiki was a time to rest and give thanks for peace, prosperity, and fertility.  During these months Hawaiians were prohibited from going to war.  Instead, they feasted on delicacies such: as poi (mashed taro root); poke (raw fish prepared with salt and seasonings); and kalua pig cooked in an underground imu.  People practiced hula, wrestling, and water sports, to compete in games and festivals.  Makahiki was an entire season during which Hawaiians renewed bonds with friends, neighbors, and family.

Most of us in today’s modern world, particularly faculty members, don’t have the time or talent to prepare great feasts or participate in feats of strength while we are gearing up for Spring semester.  But we can focus on renewal and community bonds.  One excellent way to do both is to volunteer to be an officer on the SPO Executive board.  Belonging to the board has inspired me in many ways.  I’ve experienced the fantastic opportunities that SPO provides for its student members through essay, presentation, and video contests.  I’ve been inspired by conversations with other board members who are all experienced and caring gerontological educators.  I’ve been able to network with a nationwide group of professionals whom I now call friends.  Becoming an SPO board member is one of the best ways I can think of to renew your excitement and commitment to gerontology and strengthen community bonds.  Hula and poi are optional.

The SPO Executive board consists of President, President-Elect/Past-President, Secretary, Treasurer, three Members-at-Large, an International/Virtual Representative and a Student Representative.  The board meets one to two times a year (coincident with gerontology conferences) in-person as well as several virtual meetings.  If you are interested in becoming a member, please email any one of us via the contact information provided on the SPO website or attend any of the events noted as sponsored by SPO in the conference of the upcoming meeting of the Southern Gerontological Society.

Lori Yancura, PhD

Member-At-Large, Sigma Phi Omega

November 2018

Happy Holidays….for some…

As we are in the middle of the holiday season, I am reminded of our holidays focus: family, friends, peace, giving, love. This has been a particularly difficult season as there are so many people who need more than just peace and love. They have lost their homes to weather events that were horrific. Between fires and mudslides in California, flooding across the country and hurricanes in the Carolinas, Florida, and Georgia many of us living in these zones are weary of the disasters.

After damage from Michael, we were hit with flooding. While I personally only suffered roof and tree damage from Michael, and the loss of a room of carpet and some furniture from the next month’s flooding, there are many in my area that had minimal roof damage but then had the river back up into their homes. Many of these houses are not within a flood zone and did not have flood insurance.

Our first SGS partnered meeting is taking place at Bay Point in Panama City Beach Florida (my former home) which was unfortunately one of the areas devastated by Hurricane Michael. The farmers in Southwest Georgia lost millions in their pecan and cotton crops, which will for the pecans take years to rebuild. In the midst of all of these disasters, there are many older adults who are now displaced, homeless, and are dealing with loss of memories, photos, and their friends.

As you return to campus in January, I would like to encourage you to reach out to those in these weather weary areas and partner with them to help. Donations to food banks are needed as many people have lost their incomes due to the devastation. Donations via monetary contributions are easy to send and are greatly appreciated. Contact the Area Agency on Aging in these areas to check on their needs for the older adults.  Lastly, try to make it to the SGS Conference to show support for the local PCB community in terms of tourist dollars. As a former resident, I know this will help in their long term recovery.

Pamela Brown, PhD

Past-President, Sigma Phi Omega

October 2018

As a new board member, I have to pause a second and think about where Sigma Phi Omega is, has been, and going. Further, how it has impacted my life. Looking over our history, I see how much SPO has played a role in developing and supporting students in the field of Gerontology. As one who could only minor in Gerontolgoy as an undergraduate in the early 1990s, the growth of gerontological education has been astounding with SPO working hard to improve student’s academics and careers. As a devotee to the life course perspective the trajectory of this organization influence on education must be honored.

Since 1980 and Dr. Milledge Murphy, we have been blessed to have strong leaders including some of the “big” names in the field of gerontological education as a whole such as Dr. Harvey Sterns who now heads the Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council and Dr. Graham Rowles a former president of the Academy (Association) for Gerontology in Higher Education. Many of our other past presidents and board members are Fellows of Associations that promote the teaching of gerontology, gerontological research, or publish regularly with students.  

Members of SPO take mentoring other students very seriously. Personally, past president Dr. Jennifer Kinney mentored me in my doctoral program and helped make me the professor I am today. At the same time, I have co-authored published works with Drs Rona Karasik and Pamela Pitman Brown. Therefore, for new members this is a place where not only can you gain valuable mentoring through your education, but also with publications and research. SPO for me is where I gained mentors and became a mentor.

The trajectory of being involved in education and mentoring students and professionals, plus engaging with alumni is important and will continue going forward. New opportunities are opening up for members of SPO as we work to connect with smaller conferences which may be more accessible for our members.

In these times of change and challenge, please stay up to date with the news and your membership! For students become engaged both at the local level and stretch a bit to the regional and even national level. After all, every member of the board at one time was a student who took that first step and the rest of SPO helped us if we tripped and now we can help you.

Hallie Baker, PhD
Secretary, Sigma Phi Omega

September 2018

Where do I actually begin with how far Sigma Phi Omega has come over the past few years? Well…the slogan, “You’ve come a long way baby,” stands out! SPO has accomplished so much! We moved away from checks and into online payments (THAT was an accomplishment that involved almost everyone on the board at some point!). We have moved into an International Organization, and have a super new updated Website that is continuously evolving! We are moving to a new organizational association with Southern Gerontological Society, and now we are revamping our pins, cords, and medals! We hope to be able to create a longer time frame for membership purchases so you are not having to pay annually!

All of these ideas and options take time and tons of work behind the scenes which include numerous phone calls, lots of emails and Facebook messages, and meetings at annual conferences.  Just in case you did not know, all of the board members do this as volunteer work. In other words, there is no paycheck attached to all of the great work that is done….

So as I move from “Past-President” to “off the Board Past-President” I want to encourage you to take my place! I began working with the Board back in 2007, when I interned at AGHE in D. C. After that, I came on as a Student Representative and a mere 11 years later have moved through numerous Board positions, (including a Chapter Advisor at one point) and thus have been able to participate in the numerous changes!  I feel as if we have accomplished so much, yet there is so much more that we can do! Consider donating your time to our terrific organization!

Also…consider continuing to renew your annual membership, continue supporting your local chapter, and make suggestions on how we can improve! Recently I had the opportunity to speak with some SPO members who wanted to know if they could form an “alumni” chapter as their local chapter was no longer at the university. You know what? That is an awesome idea…and we are considering it as a “professional chapter/alumni chapter” option!

If you have a local chapter continue to be involved…The students need you as a professional to help them reach their goals!

Pamela Brown, PhD

Past President, Sigma Phi Omega